FORAYS WITH MORAYS (2): SPOTTED IN THE BAHAMAS…


Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (2): SPOTTED IN THE BAHAMAS…

I’ve been neglecting the moray eels. It’s ages since I did a post about them, and it’s time to put that right. Specifically, time to take a look at Spotted Morays Gymnothorax moringa. These eels can grow up to 2 meters, and live mainly in the sub-tropical waters of the Atlantic. They are solitary creatures, most often seen with just their heads protruding from holes and fissures reefs and r0cks. They have interesting dental arrangements (see below) and their bite is one that, all things being equal, is probably best avoided… Here’s what to look for.

ADULT SPOTTED MORAYSSpotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

TOOTHSOME CRITTERS (FANGS FOR THE MEMORY…)Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

WICKLE BABY MORAY. MORAYKIN?BABY Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

Photo credits: all amazing photos courtesy of Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Props to ‘Earl the Eel’ who appears in some of them!

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) (4): BATFISH


Batfish (Brenda Bowling, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 3: BATFISH

That’s ‘Batfish’ (or strictly, Batfishes, for there are some 60 species worldwide), as in one of the weirdest, most alien underwater creatures you may ever encounter. As opposed to ‘Bait Fish’, those little silvery specimens that are so attractive to predator fish higher up the food chain – the ones fishermen might be interested in… And the Batfish has no connection at all with Bruce Wayne of Wayne Manor, Gotham City nor with his sidekick Robin. Batfish (Brenda Bowling, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department) I mention this bizarre-looking and -acting creature because two have recently been seen and photographed in Abaco waters and although I’d heard of the batfish and even knew vaguely what one looked like, I was quite unprepared for the real thing. Ellen Sokol is a Captain for Kiskeedee Sailing Charters which during the summer is based in the Abacos and which amongst other things gives youngsters the opportunity to snorkel and to learn about undersea life. Ellen says: “I was snorkelling when I saw this thing on the bottom.  At first, I thought it was a dead bird!  It wasn’t moving at all even when I touched it with my flipper.  Later when I read about this fish I learned that it sits motionless and uses the long nose to attract prey.  I suppose that is exactly what it was doing when I rudely interrupted it! I later researched, and found it to be a spotted batfish”.   Because they had no underwater camera on board, Ellen’s son gently scooped it up in a net so they could take a quick photo of the fish before returning it. Quick thinking! Batfish, Abaco 1 (Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing)Batfish, Abaco 3 (Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing) The other recent sighting was posted with a photo on FB within the last 3 weeks. It must have been by someone with whom I am ‘Friends’ or who I follow, and at the time I thought it remarkable and dragged out the image. Usually I note the source but this time I stupidly failed to do so. I’ve scrolled back through FB but I have several hundred friends, many posting much of the time, so the search was fruitless. I’m therefore posting the excellent pic with a promise to take it down if there is an objection, and in the hope that whoever made the sighting will say ‘hi’ and I can credit him, her or them appropriately… For what it’s worth, I think this one may be a short nosed batfish. STOP PRESS Ellen Sokol has now reminded me of the source of this image – the excellent CRUISE ABACO. So apologies to them for lack of attribution in the first place… Batfish (?Shortnose), Abaco Waters (FB, source unclear)

10 OGCOCEPHALIDAE (BATFISH) FACTS TO TREASURE

  • There are some 60 species of batfishes worldwide
  • They live in warm and temperate seas, including the waters of the Bahamas
  • An adult batfish is 12″ – 14″ in length
  • Their bodies are generally lumpy, with some hard spines
  • Some have a long, upturned snout. Others have bright red ‘lipstick lips’
  • They are rubbish swimmers, and often ‘walk’ on their limb-like pectoral and pelvic fins
  • Most species are deep sea denizens but some (short nose, spotted) inhabit shallower water
  • The fleshy snout above the mouth lures prey close enough to its jaws to eat
  • The batfish is becoming increasingly rare worldwide, and is considered to be endangered
  • Only the word ‘Logcock’ (pileated woodpecker) contains the initial 4 letters of Ogcocephalidae 

 CAN YOU SHOW ME SOME MORE EXAMPLES OF THIS INTRIGUING FISH?

By all means. Here are some images of other batfish species – red-lipped, long nosed, short nosed – each peculiar in its own way. You’ll see their preferred, most unfishlike method for getting around.

13179-004-429B61E0Red_lipped batfish (Barry Peters) Ogcocephalus_parvus Undersearch Research Program (NURP)Long-nosed Batfish Wiki

Shortnose Batfish Divephotoguide.com Eric Reich

Q. PLEASE MAY I SEE A VIDEO OF A BATFISH? A. YES. TWO.

“Heather Ashcraft found this very rare short-nosed bat fish on Eleuthera, Bahamas Sept 17 2013. It is a very strange (almost alien) looking combination of bat, frog, bird, and fish. The pelvic fins are used for walking on the ocean floor… Above the bat face is a horn (or beak)…”

“Taken at Coco Cay, Bahamas, April 29, 2014. At first we had no Idea what we were looking at… one of the weirdest things we had ever seen. Apparently they are rare. Even some of the locals had no idea what we were describing”

Batfish, Man-o-War Cay Abaco (Cheryl Marx MacKee)Batfish, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Cheryl Marx McKee)

Credits: Header image courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (Brenda Bowling); Ellen Sokol and Kiskeedee Sailing Charters; Unknown but appreciated FB poster; Wiki, Barry Peters, NURP, Eric Reisch; Youtubers x 2; Petersen, Arkive, Cheryl Marx MacKee, and sundry magpie pickings…

‘BONEFISH CHASE': A SKIFF RIDE FROM CROSSING ROCKS


Shadows on the Flats, Crossing Rocks, Abaco

‘BONEFISH CHASE': A SKIFF RIDE FROM CROSSING ROCKS

Does any ‘fun’ (toxic concept) ever happen around Rolling Harbour? All that detailed business about our little winged friends. All that earnest historic stuff with, like, maps and things. All those fish that are basically just… fish. Ditto the flowers. The prints of Whales (geddit?). But does Rolling Harbour ever truly come alive?

Well here’s a little brief entertainment in a skiff setting off from Crossing Rocks for a day of bonefishing, throwing some shapes along the twisty channel between the jetty and the flats beyond. Anyone who has enjoyed the sometimes exhilarating / sometimes painful (in choppy waves) skiff trips on Abaco to get out to the bonefish grounds will relate to this. You get 2 versions: high definition, with some pretentious music to match the mood. According to me. 

Here’s a smaller version with a more familiar theme (also to be found on the Sidebar of this blog) for those who are allergic to pretentious music… it’s more ‘fun’, in fact.

Dreadits: all stuff, RH; music by Preston Reed and Commander Bond

BAHAMAS WHALES & DOLPHINS IN ABACO & ANDROS WATERS


Melon-headed Whale breaching - BMMRO copy

Melon-headed Whale breaching – BMMRO

BAHAMAS WHALES & DOLPHINS IN ABACO & ANDROS WATERS

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO)  has its HQ at Sandy Point, Abaco. We recently went out in their research boat, a RHIB, to spend an unforgettable day with Blainville’s beaked whales and bottlenose dolphins. I posted some of the dolphins HERE; and a two-part beaked whale post is a work in progress.

Male Blainville’s beaked whale with its extraordinary barnacle-encrusted teeth that protrude upwards from its lower jaw. The prominent beak is plainly visible. Sighted off the south-west point of Abaco during our second encounter with a group of these whales – the only male we saw that dayBlainville's Beaked Whale KS 1

Abaco waters are ideal for marine mammals, especially off the southern shores where the walls of the Great Bahama Canyon drop vertiginously down from the shallow coastal waters to depths of up to 3 miles below. This is one of the deepest ocean canyons in the world.  The area provides a rich source of food and nutrients for the whales and dolphins and many different species are regularly sighted there, from huge sperm whales to small pilot whales (including plenty of species I had never heard of before). 

Great Bahama Canyon Map edit

As the name suggests, the BMMRO’s remit extends far beyond Abaco. The researchers often spend time exploring and recording cetaceans in other Bahamian waters. For the last few weeks the team have been off Andros and have encountered quite a few target species. I have included a selection below taken within the last month to illustrate the importance of the area for a remarkable assortment of wonderful whales and dolphins.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALEBlainville's Beaked Whale copy

DWARF SPERM WHALESDwarf Sperm Whales - BMMRO copy

PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINSPantropical Spotted Dolphin - BMMRO Pantropical Spotted Dolphin leap - BMMRO copy

On board the research vessel, every sighting is recorded in detail – where possible by species, numbers, ages, sexes, and individual identifying characteristics. Thus ‘SW34′ may have a damaged fluke, whereas ‘RD49′ may have a long scar on its back. 

PILOT WHALESPilot Whale - BMMROPilot Whales - BMMRO copyPilot Whales 2 - BMMRO

The research boat is equipped with sound devices which, when the microphone is immersed, are capable of picking up whale or dolphin sounds from a considerable distance. It’s astounding to be able to listen in ‘live’ to the wide assortment of clicks and whistles produced as the creatures communicate with each other. The recorded sound patterns are studied and can often be matched to enable an individual animal to be identified. 

MELON-HEADED WHALESMelon-headed Whales - BMMRO Melon-headed Whale - BMMRO

RISSO’S DOLPHINRisso's Dolphin - BMMRO copy

Other work, including photography, is done underwater. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect is the collection of poop specimens, from which a great deal can be ascertained about the diet and health of an individual animal. I wrote about this task and the methods used a while ago inFAMILIAR FECES‘.

I’ll be writing more about whales soon. Meanwhile, here’s a short BMMRO video of a large group of melon-headed males. At the start, you can clearly hear communication sounds between them.

Credits: Charlotte & Diane of the BMMRO for taking us out with them and for all the photos except the male Blainville’s beaked whale (mine, for once!)

BRITTLE STARS: PRIMITIVE YET INCREDIBLY COMPLEX STARFISH


Brittle Star around a Tube Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

BRITTLE STARS: PRIMITIVE YET INCREDIBLY COMPLEX STARFISH

BRITTLE STARS are closely related to starfish, and in particular to Basket Stars. They are commonly known as “serpent stars”, having 5 long, thin arms that may grow as long as 2 feet long. There are lots of different types of brittle star – at least 2000 – and they are found in every ocean on earth from the poles to the tropics. In Bahamian waters they a commonly found living on reefs.

Although these creatures look primitive, their structure, nervous systems, respiratory systems, digestive systems, sex lives and transportation methods are incredibly complex. Take it from me – I’ve just read about it all. So I’ve decided to pick a few aspects of these creatures to highlight rather than discuss the minutiae of their ossicles (tiny bones), madroporites (a sort of water filter / pressure balancer) and viscera.

You are most likely to see Brittle Stars clinging to coral or spongesSponge & Brittle Star ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba

A DOZEN BRITTLE STAR FACTS TO PLAY WITH

  • The star has no eyes and no sense organs as we know them, but can detect light chemically; and (why would they need this?) sense smell through their ‘feet’… [Not a superpower I would prize, but still]
  • The mouth is on the underside of the central disc (‘body’) of 5 segments, each with a toothed jaw
  • The mouth is used both for ingestion and, putting it delicately, egestion. [Nor that superpower]
  • Stars eat tiny organisms suspended in the water or mini-worms, gathering them with their arms
  • If I have understood this, they breathe through their armpits, and can excrete from here also
  • The arms fit the main part with ball and socket joints, and are flexible in all directions
  • The genitals seem to be located in or between the armpits (lucky we are not descended from stars)
  • Stars readily regenerate lost arms until they lose the 5th – then they are in real trouble
  • This enables them to shed an arm in a predator attack, like a lizard its tail
  • Trials indicate that a jettisoned arm cannot regenerate from itself
  • They use only 4 arms to move along, with the fifth ‘steering’ out in front or trailing behind
  • Brittle Stars are inedible but non-toxic

Brittle Star on Green Rope Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Often, brittle stars will cling on inside a spongeBrittle Stars in sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

I quite liked this infographic from a source new to me, ‘Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures Wikia’Brittle_Stars_front

Here is a great video from Neptune Canada of a brittle star fight on the ocean floor over the remains of a shrimp. If you watch the ones joining the fight, you will clearly see the locomotion method described above, with one limb pathfinding and the other four ‘walking’.

I’m not renowned for extreme sensitivity, so I feel no shame in showing mating brittle stars, courtesy of Channel Banks. It’s not exactly Lady Chatterley and Mellors, but the entwined arms are rather romantic, no?

Credits: all wonderful photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; BS infographic and viddys as credited

GRACE WITH ATTITUDE: SOUTHERN STINGRAYS IN THE BAHAMAS


Southern Stingray 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

GRACE WITH ATTITUDE: SOUTHERN STINGRAYS IN THE BAHAMAS

Southern Stingrays are often seen in Abaco waters. In the bay of Rolling Harbour at Delphi, we sometimes watch them admiringly from the balcony or beach as they lazily cruise along the shoreline in the turquoise water. If someone is in the water, they will make a leisurely detour round them – unfrightened in their own element, but unthreatening and disinclined to investigate human intrusion. Diving with them is a wonderful experience (though I have never got very close). Melinda Riger – a scuba expert with great camera skills – takes the most beautiful photos of the stingrays she encounters. Here are a few that I haven’t yet featured.  Notice the little striped CLEANING GOBIES going about their business. 

Stingray, Southern with cleaning gobies ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyStingray, Southern at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba  copySouthern Stingray © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copy

Southern Stingrays are often encountered when one is bonefishing in the low waters of the Marls. I took the photos below while we were fishing in a channel between areas of mangrove. As the skiff was poled very slowly forward, I saw the stingray coming straight towards us. I wondered how it would react. Very elegantly, was the answer. It turned effortlessly and unperturbed to one side, then resumed its original course leaving a clump of mangrove between it and the skiff. 

Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 1)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 2)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 3)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)

RELATED POSTS

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS

RAYS OF SUNSHINE

YELLOW STINGRAYS

Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; RH

“ONE IS CALLED LUCY…”: SWIMMING WITH BAHAMAS SHARKS


Shark, Blacktip ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

“ONE IS CALLED LUCY…”: SWIMMING WITH SHARKS

From time to time I wonder about the naming of animals. I know about the problems that can arise when people name their chickens Henny, Penny, Denny & Lenny, and the time comes to (please look away now). And how a slavering dog coming towards you (not on a lead) that the owner calls ‘Tyson’ or ‘Killer’ is possibly one to cross the street for. And that the owner of a cat called ‘The Reverend Wenceslas Muff’ (Sir Roy Strong, in fact) may not take kindly to you referring to it facetiously as ‘Puddy-tat’. But does it make things any better to know that the shark that is eyeballing you is called Lucy? I don’t know the names of the others, but I am sure they would all like to be introduced… Shark close-up ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark with remora ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Shark ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 2Shark Head ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy 2Shark 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyShark (pregant female) ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba copy

REMORAS Some of the photos show a strange creature attached to the underside of the shark. For more info about these weird shark passengers, and some great images, click HERE

All the fabulous photographs above were taken by Melinda Riger and Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba, on whom I rely entirely for subaqueous material, being a pathetic swimmer, a gnarly ancient, and a certified scaredy-cat (‘highly commended’). My thanks as always to them for use permission